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Pre-APEC talks For Richest And Poorest Countries

by Selwyn Manning

Inside APEC Series - United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is a step closer to landing in Auckland for APEC after arriving in Vietnam today.

Ms Albright was earlier in the Middle East on a whistle-stop peace visit before landing in Hanoi to discuss human rights, trade, and American servicemen still missing from the Vietnam War.

The visit brings the richest and the poorest of APEC's countries another step closer after decades of diplomatic silence began to thaw in 1995. It also paves the way for similar talks once the leader's arrive in Auckland on Saturday.

Other agreements discussed today between the USA and Vietnam include airline code-sharing between Vietnam Airlines and a U.S. carrier, and cooperation in science and technology.

A financing deal requires Hanoi to provide sovereign guarantees to the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which in turn would provide export credit insurance, loan guarantees and loans to support exports to Vietnam's public sector.

Five main agreements will erase trade barriers and free up financing for U.S exporters. It had been hoped that the agreements would be ready for signing between the two countries at Auckland late this week. But reports today show this to be unlikely after the Vietnamese decided to go slow on the deal.

The trade agreements will firm Vietnam's trade and economic reforms after opening up the tiger economy to foreign joint venture agreements in 1993.

New Zealand companies such as Iddison Group [a mining exploration and exploitation company] entered into joint venture agreements with the Vietnamese government in 1994. It found the bureaucracy there slow to move and tiresomely burdened. Its advice to investors was: when brokering with the Vietnamese, take with you plenty of time. But such ventures paved the way for other forms of investment.

Albright had meetings today with Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, Foreign Minister Nguyen Manh Cam and the secretary general of the Communist Party, Le Kha Phieu.

Relations between Vietnam and the United States have been improving since 1995, when they established normal ties.

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